The first time I brought my mother from Colombia for an extended visit was during my second year as a priest, 24 years ago. She came to visit for four months while I was serving in Wendell, NC. My younger sister, Rosita, took a leave of absence from her job as a lawyer in Colombia and joined my mother during the last two months of her stay. A generous Catholic family from Wendell hosted them.
One day, my sister was seated putting make up on. My mother wanted to sit closer to her so they could talk easily. My mother saw a small round pedestal end table and confused it with a small stool. She moved it closer to my sister and sat on it. As expected, the table broke and my mother fell on the floor. She was not injured, but she felt bad for breaking the host’s table. She told me, “Up to this point in my stay I was so happy because I had not broken anything yet”. I understood that she did not want to owe anything to the host family, except her deep gratitude and love for them.
Saint Paul, in today’s second reading from his magnificent letter to the Romans, tells us to “owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another”. This implies that any time we encounter another person, we automatically owe that person love. And love has many facets, among them respect, kindness, and courtesy.
Saint Paul says that “the one who loves another has fulfilled the law”. The law he refers to is the Ten Commandments. He continues by mentioning five of the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments are arranged in two groups: one group that deals with our relationship with God (the first three Commandments) and another group that deals with our relationship with others (the last seven Commandments). The five Commandments that Saint Paul mentions are from this second group.
Saint Paul was aware of the answer the Lord had given when he was asked about which commandment in the law was the greatest. The Lord answered “You shall love the Lord your God with all you heart…” The Lord also shared which was the second, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments” (Matthew 22, 39-40).
Saint Paul did not invent anything here. He was teaching one of the most important teachings from the Lord to a community, the Romans, who have not read the gospel since none of the gospels were written yet. I find the way Saint Paul teaches very practical: we are to always remember that anytime another human being is near us, we already owe that person our love. And we need to pay that debt at the moment it occurs, not later because it cannot be done.
Let us humbly ask the Lord to grant us his grace to learn this lesson and put it into practice every day.